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2008 Conveyor Industry Leaders Review

October 11, 2010
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For the past seven years, Professional Carwashing & Detailing has identified industry leaders by easily quantifiable successes — the highest revenue per car or the most cars washed in one day. While those achievements are extremely important to the vitality of this industry, there are also less tangible milestones that are sometimes overlooked in the quest to celebrate operational success.

This year, the staff of PC&D decided to step outside the box to recognize operators for their more altruistic achievements. The operators below have used charity to fuel goodwill towards our industry and foster a connection to community. They are well-known names — Autobell, Splash, Cloister and Brown Bear — who you may already recognize for their record-breaking and innovative successes.

While the quantifiable successes of these carwashes are undeniable, it is their charitable instincts that really set them apart, especially at a time when many carwash operators are reporting a down trend in volume or revenue. As Lance Odermat, vice president and general counsel of Brown Bear, explained, “It may be more difficult to give now, but that only means it is that much more important to the charities that are in need.”

Let the charity do the talking
Mark Curtis turned to a charity for promotion and started a tradition of giving back.

Splash Car Wash, a chain of 23 carwashes based in Stamford, CT, has been involved in charity work almost from its inception in 1981, primarily donating washes for raffles and auctions. But it wasn’t until 1985 that the company seriously started to employ cause-related marketing as a tool to grow its business, though.

An accidental beginning
It happened mostly by accident. Mark Curtis, co-founder and CEO, had read that a carwash operator was holding a Customer Appreciation Day and washing cars for free. Curtis thought this was a great promotional idea — the only problem was Splash didn’t have any money to promote the event.

“I thought it would be foolish to simply wash cars for the people who just happened to show up that day. A couple hundred of customers would have been overjoyed while the rest would either not know about it or regret having paid us the day before,” Curtis explained. “Then the idea to couple with a charity came to me.”

The charity would promote the event and in turn, Splash would accept donations in lieu of charging for the wash. Curtis thought Special Olympics was a great cause, so he contacted the local association for retarded citizens. “The guy there couldn’t believe what I was suggesting. Of course, my motives were purely mercenary and I suggested that he really needed to promote the event,” Curtis recalled. “He said he would.”

And he did
With the help of the Special Olympics non-profit group, Splash had newspaper and radio coverage. Volunteers and employees of the group distributed fliers across town and the response was amazing. “We washed over 500 cars that Saturday — about double our usual volume then — and raised over $2,000,” Curtis said. “Most importantly, we saw people who had never been to our wash who insisted that they were now ‘our customers.’

Curtis said as many as ten years later, he would still have customers tell him they drove across town to a Splash Car Wash because of what they had done for the Special Olympics charity all those years ago.

Since then, Splash’s philanthropic efforts have grown immensely. The company receives requests from over 400 groups each year and has raised well over $1,000,000 for local and national charities and organizations since that first fundraiser 23 years ago. “We do about $100,000 a year,” Curtis said.

Inspirations & WashUSA
So where does Splash get its fundraising ideas from? Other carwashes, of course! For instance, the company holds a “Christmas Charity” fundraiser each year where a certain portion of gift card sales go to local charities. Splash borrowed this idea from former ICA president Guy Goddard of Supersonic Car Wash. The chain also offers groups and organizations the chance to sell gift cards to Splash for an even half of the proceeds. Curtis said he borrowed this concept from his mentor — and fellow carwasher profiled for this year’s Industry Leaders Review — Mike Mountz.

Splash doesn’t just borrow ideas from fellow carwashes, it also believes in pairing with other operators to increase the success of its charity contributions. WashUSA, a national carwash event to support Make-A-Wish started by Mark Curtis in 2001, and more recently, Wash CT, a smaller-scale version of WashUSA that Curtis founded after WashUSA was cancelled in 2006 due to diminished participation, are efforts close to Splash’s heart.

“I believed when we first started Wash USA that by pulling together with other operators, we could raise a significant amount of money for a good cause while casting a positive light on our industry,” Curtis explained. “I think these efforts achieved both those goals with over $800,000 raised for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and four appearances on national TV to promote the event.” This year, WashCT had participation from 60 carwashes across Connecticut.

Cause-related marketing
The dynamics of cause-related marketing as a business-builder make sense. Curtis cites a recent survey where over 75 percent of the respondents said that they would switch to patronize a company which supported a cause they liked. He sees proof of this in his customers every day.

And while Curtis has realized the benefit of recognition for his good deeds, he thinks the biggest reward is the personal satisfaction he feels. “I think the change for me has been to see the good that comes from the money we’ve raised. I have toured several of the facilities of the charities we have supported and seen the work they do. I can tell you it’s changed my motivation from purely building business to a desire to help those who can’t help themselves,” Curtis said. “There’s nothing like that feeling.”

Autobell in the community
Whether it’s supporting sports or the environment, Autobell does it with enthusiasm and passion.

“Giving back to the community is something we have always done,” explains Chuck Howard, owner and CEO of Charlotte-based Autobell Car Wash Inc., America’s third largest full-service carwash chain. “When my father started Autobell in 1969, he instilled in me at a young age that giving back to the community supporting your business is not only good for public relations and exposure, it’s just the right thing to do.”

And give back they have. When Autobell was a fledgling one-town carwash company, it would often support various little league sports teams with uniforms and donate complimentary carwash certificates to a litany of charitable and non-profit organizations for fund raisers.

The company also became an annual float sponsor of the Carolinas’ Carrousel Parade (now the Carolinas’ Thanksgiving Parade), which was part of the Shriners Children’s Hospital fundraiser in conjunction with its high school all-star football game. The parade was, and is, attended by over 100,000 spectators and is broadcast on the local CBS affiliate.

The effort grows
As Autobell grew, so did its community involvement. Today, with 49 carwashes in 25 North Carolina, 1 South Carolina, and 4 Virginia municipalities (with more under construction), Autobell has a significant and widespread community relations program.

Since 1998, Autobell has raised over $2.5 million for numerous charities and non-profits via its charity carwash program, through which Autobell provides non-profit organizations with full-service carwash certificates at a wholesale price; the fundraisers in turn sell the certificates at normal retail price. The program also is a champion of Autobell’s environmental stance, as it discourages charitable parking lot carwashes, which produce wastewater run-off that pollutes streams, and ultimately, drinking water.

An extremely popular program with employees and their parents is the annual awarding of Autobell scholarships to interested and qualified employees. Since its inception in 2000, Autobell has awarded nearly 200 scholarships valued well into six figures.

Autobell & the environment
Other community involvement includes various water conservation and environmental concerns, which are paramount in Autobell’s marketing components. “Adopt-A-Stream” and “Adopt-An-Island” programs, as well as Virginia’s “Hampton Bay Days” festival are continual activities executed by Autobell employees. Since 2000, Autobell has received seven awards from municipalities, utilities, media and wildlife organizations for their environmental stance and actions.

Autobell has been involved in several American Red Cross blood drives, as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and recently was a major sponsor for a photographic arts exhibit portraying the impact and importance of North Carolina’s Catawba River on the surrounding region, another community-related environmental stance.

There are also occasional individual store or city activities that district or store managers may initiate, but most programs are company-wide.

“I can’t imagine not having programs that entrench us in our many communities,” concludes CEO Howard. “Community relations and charitable activity are such a natural part of what we do. It ties into our thoughts, desires and company culture, as well as our branding, marketing and identity. Plus, we enjoy doing it. It’s the right thing to do.”

Keep on giving
Need ideas? Cloister Wash & Lube has plenty of ways you can give back to your community.

Cloister Wash & Lube, with four locations based in Ephrata, PA, is well known in the carwash industry for the innovations that have led to its success. But the carwash chain that made “people mover” conveyors famous and has its own company-designed motorcycle wash is also well-known for its inventive commitment to community and charity.

Cloister’s community contributions are clever, creative and numerous — just like its carwash innovations. The company makes a point to establish a relationship with each of the four communities that its locations are based in — and in each community it tries to give back in several ways. These programs have served as inspiration to other carwash operators, like Mark Curtis, CEO of Splash Car Wash, who is also included in this Industry Leaders profile.

Charitable causes
The hallmark of Cloister’s support to the community is the company’s highly successful fundraising program. Started in 1994, Cloister has been able to help almost 3,000 organizations raise money. To date, non-profit organizations have benefited from approximately $4,600,000 in fundraising carwash sales, 50 percent of which (or an excess of $2,300,000) has gone to charities.

Cloister also rewards charities that do well by upping the ante after a successful fundraiser. If a charity group sells $50,000 in carwashes, they receive 100 percent of the sales money during the next fundraiser.

Cloister’s support of community groups also extends to carwash coupon donations. Since 2003, the chain has given nearly $45,000 worth of coupons to organizations that request them within the community. This year, the company also donated 500 baseball tickets to the Make-A-Wish foundation. The charities that receive the coupons are able to use them in whatever way most helps them raise money and awareness, from raffles to give-a-ways.

Giving back to those who serve
Cloister is extremely focused on the organizations that serve the four communities in which it has locations and has launched a community relations campaign in order to help these causes.

In 2007, Cloister donated a beautifully conditioned and outfitted Emergency Services Vehicle to the Ephrata Police Department. It is now used for SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) and emergency services deployment. Also in 2007, Cloister distributed free carwash coupons to the surrounding township firefighters that serve its communities.

One of the company’s biggest efforts is Grace for Vets, a program started to honor our country’s veterans on Veterans Day. To mark this important day, the chain gives away free carwashes to veterans and active service personnel — no questions asked. Cloister proudly thanks these men and women for their service to our country and washes their car for free.

Cloister’s has extended the Grace for Vets program to other carwash operators across the country and enjoyed a successful national launch last year.

A tie to the community
Cloister also supports its community with the following efforts:
  • Each year, the chain gives thousands of coupons to teachers in its community school districts and also to local hospital staff;

  • Cloister employees participate in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life with a full team to raise money and awareness for cancer research;

  • The company runs a successful Children’s Miracle Network “Change Bandit” campaign every February. Cloister collects change at all of its locations, donates free carwashes for online auctions and volunteers to answer the phones as a team for the local Children’s Miracle Network radio-thon;

  • This year, Cloister is the Corporate Chair for a regional Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk to Cure Diabetes.
All of these efforts solidify the company’s commitment to the community and promote loyalty from their customers. “Doing the right thing and being a good community citizen makes sure that we give back to the community that supports us,” explains Diann Roffe, director of business development for Cloister. “We have always said, ‘Feel good ... drive a Cloister clean car!’ By practicing community goodwill, we make sure that people always think highly of us and feel good about being our customers.”

A beary good reason to give
Brown Bear Car Wash makes the environment a priority in its charity involvement.

Victor Odermat has been involved with charitable causes since he started washing cars back in 1957. For Odermat, president and founder of Brown Bear Car Wash, a chain of 39 carwashes based in Seattle, the question has never been why should he help others, but rather, why not?

“I realized the importance of giving back from day one,” explains Odermat. “There’s no good reason not to help. It’s good for business and it’s good for the community.”

Odermat’s primary focus has been on the environment. Through his charitable donations and programs, Odermat has been able to not only help the environment; but also encourage education about the carwash industry and help his business along the way.

Multi-purpose giving
Odermat first realized he could combine his interest in helping others with helping the carwash industry when city officials started regulating his use of water. He knew student groups were hosting carwash fundraisers in a parking lot down the street, but no one seemed to mind that their soapy water was running freely down the storm drain.

Instead of getting mad, Odermat decided to take action. In 1993, he established the Puget Sound Car Wash Association (PSCWA), a regional trade association that would be focused on educating the public about the dangers of home and parking lot carwashes on the environment. With other area carwashes, Odermat was able to develop a public awareness campaign to educate home washers. The PSCWA also created a charity program in order to encourage local groups to use professional carwashes to help raise funds as opposed to washing cars at parking lot events. This program started by Odermat and the PSCWA has been emulated by many regional trade associations.

In April 2007, Brown Bear launched an independent charity program in order to better realize its goal of giving back to the community. The company offers carwash tickets at a discounted price to charities who sell them to raise money. According to Lance Odermat, Vic Odermat’s son and vice president and general counsel of Brown Bear, most of these groups find the carwash through word of mouth. The company also has an employee who oversees its charity program and uses its website to generate interest, as well.

Giving to good causes
Aside from helping groups raise money in an environmentally-safe and friendly way, Brown Bear also has made significant contributions to environmental causes that are close to its heart. In 1993, Odermat made a pledge to donate $300,000, to help fund the Northern Trail Exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo. The exhibit features snowy owls, river otters, mountain goats, bald eagles, elk, and — you guessed it — brown bears.

Brown Bear’s involvement with the zoo continues today and the company has so far contributed $1.1 million. In addition to the Northern Trail Exhibit, money from these contributions has helped fund the building of a pavilion that houses an antique carousel built in 1918.

Brown Bear is also a corporate partner of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (PSKA), a group focused on protecting and preserving Puget Sound. Through supporting the PSKA, Brown Bear is able to show how genuine its interest is in serving the public and the environment.

“I think too often environmental groups end up at odds with business groups. With our support of the PSKA, we show that business and environmental groups are able to work together to achieve mutually beneficial goals,” Lance Odermat, explains.

By now, most of the carwash industry realizes how serious Brown Bear is about the environment thanks to its sponsorship of the Fish Toxicity Study conducted by Environmental Partners, Inc. of Washington, that proved home and charity carwashing is detrimental to salmon survival during the salmon spawning season in the Puget Sound area. (You can review the full report on Brown Bear's new interactive website, Brown Bear realizes it’s not only the best interest of the carwash industry to educate the public — it’s also in the best interest of the environment.

Rexnord Leading the way

For more than 70 years, Rexnord Industries has been the leader in conveying solutions that have advanced productivity and customer satisfaction for major manufacturers around the world. Since 1998, Rexnord’s technology innovation in car care conveying — MatTop® Chain — has been changing the way conveyorized car washing and detailing operations do business.

Wash virtually any car
Rexnord® 6990 Series MatTop® chains for car care provide a safe, simple, and smooth method of conveying vehicles through exterior wash tunnels. With Rexnord 6990 Series MatTop chains in Solid or Safety Top, cars ride smoothly on the gently moving flat conveyor system without jerks or jolts. Requiring no guiderails or correlators, the 30 or 42 inch dual lane conveyor can convey virtually any size or style vehicle with no damage to wheels, rims or finish — from SUVs to low-profile sports cars. Rugged, built-in T1 or T2 pushers carry vehicles onto the conveyor, through the car wash and off the conveyor while in neutral or park, so loading and unloading is quick and easy. And, with all wheels on top of the conveyor, braking and steering problems are eliminated.

For many owners, the best thing about the Rexnord system is it’s basically maintenance free. With the modular chain design, Rexnord® TwistLock® pin retention and two-piece sprocket design, installation and maintenance are quick and easy. Since the conveyor drive and tail shafts are the only moving parts, maintenance is minimal and operating costs are significantly reduced.

Move workers and vehicles together
Installing Rexnord wide 6999 Safety Top MatTop chain in interior detailing operations can increase cars per hour by as much as 30 percent. The wide, moving MatTop floor allows workers to move right along with the car so detailing is safer, easier and more efficient. For maximum productivity, cars can be spaced according to demand and worker availability.

As one of the most important pieces of equipment in every car care operation, the conveying system is key to a safe environment for both workers and vehicles. Rexnord 6999 MatTop chain with slip-resistant Safety Top makes moving vehicles and people safer with less potential for injury. The wide, smooth conveying surface reduces walking and eliminates the hazards of guiderails, pinch points, and rollers.

And, Rexnord 6999 MatTop Chain maintains its productivity year after year. At one interior detailing operation, over 1,000,000 cars have been conveyed on the original long-lasting MatTop Car Care Chain.

Rexnord for single lane exteriors
Rexnord has taken its conveying technology innovation into single lane exterior wash operations with the 12 inch wide, ultra-strength 3125 MatTop Chain for car care. Used in place of traditional over/under steel conveyors, Rexnord’s rugged plastic modular conveying chain carries the driver’s side tires while passenger side tires roll. Jerking and rolling are eliminated and vehicles remain securely in the conveyor track without jumping.

Exterior wash conveying with Rexnord 3125 MatTop Chain for car care and durable T2 vehicle pushers makes loading vehicles quick and easy. Customers simply drive over the rugged vehicle pushers during loading and move safely on the conveyor with Pushers always upright for added stability.

The Rexnord 3125 MatTop Chain for car care is designed for heavy-duty industrial strength and long-lasting wear. The durable, double-tooth split sprocket with unique chain interaction makes conveying even the heaviest vehicles easy and smooth. Maintenance and operating costs are significantly reduced, since roller maintenance, roller wear, uneven roller chain wear, and take-up issues are eliminated.

Leading the change in car care conveying
Rexnord pioneered the first installations of plastic modular MatTop Chain for car care conveying 10 years ago, and continues to be the leading innovator in conveying technology for car washing and detailing. Rexnord is the only developer and manufacturer of industrial MatTop conveying chain, offering solutions for every conveyorized operation: dual lane exterior, interior detailing and single lane exterior.